Several Windham County lawmakers visit the Reformer offices on Wednesday. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Several Windham County lawmakers visit the Reformer offices on Wednesday. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Thursday December 20, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Mental-health issues and gun-control measures are among the topics on local legislators' minds in the wake of last week's attack in Newtown, Conn.

During a gathering of several of Windham County's state lawmakers Wednesday at the Reformer offices, there was no clear consensus on which measures schools and/or the state should take.

And some expressed doubt that such an attack -- which involved a gunman who forced his way into an elementary school and killed 26, including 20 students -- could be prevented without transforming schools into fortresses.

"This thing would not be defensible," said state Rep. John Moran, a Wardsboro Democrat representing the Windham-Bennington district.

Moran, who also is a School Board member in Wardsboro, added that "schools are still one of the safest places" for children. The chances of such an incident happening in a school remain relatively slim, he said.

Moran was one of two legislators at Wednesday's gathering who are school board members. The other was state Rep. Carolyn Partridge, a veteran Democratic lawmaker who also chairs the Town of Windham's School Board.

Partridge wondered how many additional security measures school administrators and teachers could be expected to take.

"We ask our school personnel to do so much," she said.

But the Connecticut tragedy also has rekindled an always-contentious debate about gun control. Partridge urged federal action on the issue.

"I hope that something is done on a national level regarding assault weapons," she said.

State Sen. Peter Galbraith, a Townshend Democrat, is not buying "the notion that there isn't a difference between a semiautomatic weapon and a knife."

"Clearly, semiautomatic weapons are more deadly," Galbraith said.

State Rep. Mike Hebert -- who will be the sole Republican representing Windham County as of next month -- dismissed the notion of arming teachers.

"I don't think bringing weapons into the school is a solution to prevent violence," said Hebert, who is based in Vernon and also represents Guilford.

But Hebert also raised concerns about any potential gun legislation. For instance, he asked how regulators would define an "assault rifle" and what types of guns they would seek to ban.

"There has to be some clarity as to how we're going to define these terms," he said.

Hebert said he would rather address "the causative factors for violence." A major concern, he said, is an inadequate system for treating mental illness.

Galbraith agreed.

"The issue is, are we going to devote the resources, as a society, to deal with mental-health issues," Galbraith said.

He added, however, that substantive changes on that front may have to happen at the federal level. Galbraith questioned whether Vermont has adequate resources to deal with the problem.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.